The rights of unaccompanied children arriving in Kent

The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium is a coalition of organisations working to promote the rights of children. We are deeply concerned about recent reports of what is happening to unaccompanied children who are arriving in Kent.

26 July 2021

We know from news, reports and our members’ work that too many children are being held for too long at the short-term holding facility in Kent, known as the Kent Intake Unit, and other ports around the country. Unaccompanied children arriving in the UK have had to flee under horrific circumstances and need to be somewhere where they can begin to feel safe as soon as possible. In the UK, this will mean being looked after and accommodated by social services.

We have already raised our concerns with the Home Office following the damning report from the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, that criticised the Border Force for inadequate oversight of detention practices for children and failures to monitor the numbers of children being held in detention and for how long. These facilities are grossly inappropriate for children.

We are also dismayed at reports that have suggested that children are accommodated temporarily in facilities including government offices and hotels. It is not clear what safeguarding arrangements are in place. We are deeply concerned about putting any child who is on their own with adults in facilities or hotels. This contravenes the protections owed to children under the Children Act 1989. Children cared for under the Children Act 1989 cannot be properly protected and cared for in government offices or hotels.

The Home Office has consistently failed to provide sufficient funding and support to local authorities to enable them to provide high quality care to unaccompanied children.

The Home Office and local authorities must ensure that they take all steps necessary to safeguard unaccompanied children and provide them with protection. The Home Office is under a duty to safeguard the welfare of unaccompanied children under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 and local authorities must provide care for children in need in their area. Even though numbers of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK seeking asylum are low, dropping from the previous year and still significantly lower than higher numbers seen in the early 2000s, the situation for children arriving has worsened. Financial and responsibility arguments between national and local government should never take precedence over protecting children from harm.

We urge the Home Office and Kent County Council to work together to resolve this situation immediately and ensure that sufficient resource is available to provide appropriate accommodation and support to all children arriving in the UK.